Dogs and fireworks and not a great combination. Many dogs experience some level of distress when they hear fireworks and we’ll be looking at ways to help calm your dog, and at different methods of treating and even preventing firework anxiety.
As Independence Day or Bonfire Night approaches, some dog owners will be dreading the forthcoming firework based celebrations.
Why is my dog scared of fireworks?
Firework displays are often seasonal. The really big displays tend to be held annually to celebrate important occasions. New Year is welcomed in around the world with explosions, and only those with deep enough pockets are likely to have a firework display for weddings or other family celebrations.
The seasonal nature and high cost of fireworks means that they are not a common occurrence and most dogs will not hear fireworks more than two or three times a year. So many dogs never have chance to become accustomed to the noise
In addition, modern fireworks are extremely loud and quite unlike anything a dog is likely to hear in day to day life. Many working gun dogs, perfectly at home around shotguns being fired are still afraid of fireworks.
You can’t easily ‘socialize’ your dog to fireworks in the way that we socialize dogs to other sounds and so it isn’t really surprising that many dogs find them frightening.
If you own a dog, fireworks can be a source of real distress and upset, both for a dog who hates them, and for the people who love him.
There is no escape for most of us. And as we have to live with these events – often several times a year, it’s important to know how best to calm a dog during firework displays
Symptoms of firework anxiety
If your Labrador shows signs of fear during a fireworks display, it’s natural for you to want to do everything in your power to make him or her feel better.
These signs of fear depend to some extent on your dog’s personality and just how bothered they are.
Your dog may pace up and down, the room, or try to climb in your lap.
Some dogs will simply lie in their beds looking uncomfortable, until the whole confusing affair is over, but others will really shake, pant, drool or try to hide.
One of my Labs really dislikes fireworks. She doesn’t shake anymore, but she still does her best to get underneath something once the firework displays in the village get going.
She is happiest if I sit on the sofa so that she can lie with her head underneath it, next to me.
How to calm dogs during fireworks
It may seem obvious, but it’s important to keep calm yourself. Many people feel that fireworks should be banned, but having a heated discussion about that with your other half once the display is underway, is not going to help your dog.
Keep pets at home
If your dog doesn’t like fireworks, then he is not going to want to accompany you to the local display. Make sure your home is as separate from the outdoor activities as possible. There are a few simple ways to achieve this.
Make sure all the windows are shut, to reduce the noise coming from outside. Put on the television or radio to add to the background noise that he considers normal.
Some dogs are also bothered by the lights from the fireworks display, so shutting the curtains could help him feel less visually concerned as well as additionally muting the noise.
Stay with your dog
If possible, keep your Labrador in one room with you. Some dogs have a tendency to pace the house in their panic, the less space he has to pace the more likely he will be to settle down.
It’s quite understandable that you might want to go to a fireworks display on bonfire night! If your dog is nervous, then asking a friend or neighbour that he knows to stay in the house with him whilst you are out might be sensible.
Ultimately though, nothing is likely to be quite a comforting for him, as having you there.
Create a safe place
Make sure there is a nice comfy place for your dog to settle for the evening, where he feels safest. If he normally hides when the bangs start up, then make it easy for him to do so.
You can even make a nice den with an old sheet over the sofa, if that’s his preferred spot. Don’t try and coax him out whilst the noise is ongoing.
Comfort your dog
Have a bowl of water to hand and bring some of his favourite treats with you. If you know there is going to be a local display starting near you at a certain time, you can start giving him the treats just before the noise is due to begin.
People used to think that dogs should be ignored when they showed signs of fear as if paying them attention would encourage their behavior. Patricia McConnell explains why (contrary to frequently offered advice) it is ok to pet and soothe your dog whilst he is fearful.
She also notes in her blog article ‘reducing fear in dogs’ that dogs have reduced levels of cortisol if amongst other dogs.
So if you have a friend whose dog is not afraid of fireworks and that gets along with your dog, this could be a very good evening to spend indoors together.
What can I give my dog for fireworks anxiety
It’s natural to want to do something constructive to help your dog when he is afraid of fireworks.
You may have heard of body wraps, sprays and medications that can work to calm a dog, so we’ll take a look at those next
Dog wraps for fireworks anxiety
One school of thought is that pressure wraps may help to make dogs feel calm, and that they can be used to help dogs suffering from fear of fireworks.
You can buy pressure wraps in various sizes and looking at the reviews for these, it’s clear that dog owners are divided as to whether or not they help
How do pressure wraps work?
The theory is that dogs find pressure calming. But there isn’t actually much evidence to support this theory. Certainly, some dogs seem to display reduced movement and reaction when held tightly, but it’s important not to misinterpret this behaviour. Many dogs will freeze or become subdued when frightened too.
If you’d like to read more about the effects of pressure wraps on dogs there is an excellent article on this topic which contains links to various studies.
It concludes that sadly, pressure wraps probably don’t work, and that even though they may not harm your dog directly, they may stop people from seeking more effective treatment for their dogs.
Failing to seek more effective treatment is not a good thing because, for some dogs, fireworks are terrifying and for those dogs, medication from a vet may be the kindest option
Dog Appeasing Pheramone for firework anxiety
Before we move onto medication, there is one over the counter product that has shown some signs of being an effective way of calming dogs in some situations
Dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) a synthetic version of a substance released by lactating female dogs and some studies have shown that it has a calming effect on other dogs.
If your dog suffers from a mild case of fireworks anxiety you might want to consider purchasing a DAP diffuser. This is a device which plugs into a wall socket and which releases DAP into your home. It may help to reduce anxiety in your dog over the festivities.
Dog fireworks anxiety medication
If your dog is severely affected by fireworks you really need to talk to your vet.
If your dog is very distressed during firework displays, your vet may want to prescribe a drug to help him through the evening
Dogs that are terrified of fireworks used to be treated with sedatives, but its now thought that while these removed the dog’s fearful behaviour, they might not have removed the fear itself. These days, dogs are more likely to be prescribed an anti-anxiety drug which should reduce both the dog’s fear, and his memory of the events (which will help him be less fearful next time).
In the long run of course, the ideal aim is to help the dog overcome this extreme fear so that he doesn’t need medical treatment to cope with the annual celebrations which are an unavoidable part of our world.
Firework CD for dogs
It is possible now to buy CDs to help you change the way your dog feels about fireworks.
The CDs usually contain recordings of a range of different loud noises that are commonly triggers for anxiety in dogs. Including gunshots, fireworks, and vehicle sounds.
You may find it helps to acclimatise your dog to the noise of fireworks by playing a CD of fireworks sounds at gradually increasing volume for a few weeks before the July 4th for example. Or before any other occasion when you know fireworks could be a problem.
Dog and fireworks – summary
Fear of fireworks is a very real and distressing problem for many dogs.
For dogs with mild concerns over fireworks, keeping them indoors, keeping calm, and being there for them may be enough to get them through the evening.
For dogs with mild to moderate firework anxiety a DAP diffuser may be all you need to help your dog
With dogs that are terrified of fireworks you will probably need a prescription for your vet if a firework display is imminent.
Behaviour modification can work to reduce fear of fireworks and other noises, but it takes time and relies on repeated exposure and practice. So buy your CD well in advance, and take it slowly
How about your dog?
How do you sooth your dog on bonfire night? Or does he snooze happily through the whole thing! Why not let us know in the comments section below.
Young-Mee, K. Et al. Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs. Canadian Veterinary Journal 2010
Landsberg GM1, et al. Dog-appeasing pheromone collars reduce sound-induced fear and anxiety in beagle dogs: a placebo-controlled study. Vet Rec. 2015
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2017.